A Real Page Turner

Title: All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer
Publisher: Minotaur Books, Macmillan (March 10, 2015)
303 pp
Genre: espionage, mystery, spy novel, thriller, intrigue, political thriller
4 Stars ****
Author: Olen Steinhauer is an award winning American author of espionage fiction. His Milo Weaver trilogy (The Tourist (2009), Nearest Exit (2010) and An American Spy (2012)) were NYTimes best sellers and among my favourite spy novels. The Tourist has been optioned by George Clooney, which raised his profile and increased his readership. His first novel, Bridge of Sighs, (2007) was nominated for many awards, and continues to be an excellent place to start his works (it’s also a series, aka Ruthenia or Yalta Boulevard). I get excited with each new publication, and make time to read these, generally in one sitting. How can you wait for the denouement? His addictive writing and characters are engaging and complex. The books are well crafted with multilayered plots. Interestingly, this novel had its origins in another literary work, a narrative poem by Christopher Reid called The Song of Lunch, a BBC Masterpiece production Steinhauer saw in 2010 (starring Emma Thompson and Alan Reichman. I want them to appear in this book/movie!).
He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. All the Old Knives is his 9th novel and a stand alone. His interviews are also fascinating. “A writer should write the book he would want to read.” “The real pleasure of reviewing has been discovering new voices.” And “If a writer’s central subject is human nature than politics is beside the point.”
Story line:
This is an unusual spy thriller in that all the action takes place over dinner in Carmel, CA. Flashbacks slowly reveal multiple suspects and unreliable memories. The story is complicated by betrayal and guilt of ex lovers, not just ex CIA field officers. Many glasses of wine, exquisite food do not blunt the deception, betrayals, loss of trust and the complicated, complex, manipulating world of spies.
We know Muslim terrorists blew up a plane in Vienna 6 years ago, killing everyone. This also ended the relationship between two agents Celia Harrison and Henry Pelham. She left the service and lives a very different life (wife of a GM executive Drew Favreau, campaigning for Romney). Henry is still looking for the mole responsible for the disastrous day that changed his life, assigned to the European Desk. The story and the people evolve, but they are caught in the past. Their voices narrate different chapters expressing disparate views, each are master manipulators, to each other and the reader. I had a hard time liking either character, in this all too real novel. (And still think he should have been called Harry, but why?!) There is no black and white in the world.
This is still an intense, taut, quick read. Where the ending makes you rethink everything. The finale was not unexpected, with foreshadowing and subtle, well placed clues. Who did you believe? Would you survive the night? You might have to reread it. I can’t.
This is a good introduction to his work and you will find yourself drawn into his European theatre.
Read on:
Alan Furst, John LeCarre, Eric Ambler, Len Deighton, Joseph Conrad
If you like Charles McCarry’s The Miernik Dossier
Watch:
MI5 or Spooks and The Song of Lunch
Quotes:
Another day, another delay.
I keep my phone locked away, after 15 hours flying 6000 miles, then suffering through the mass psychosis of American passport control, the precise time of my arrival feels unimportant.
Besides never having to look her in the eyes would certainly make my job, and my life, a lot easier.
Perhaps strangers are our best friends.
I’ve known him my whole Austrian decade and he uses sighs the way others crack knuckles or chain smoke.
I’m entirely air-conditioned now.
Romantic love is cute. Passion is just a little game.

Read as an ARC from NetGalley

Read Across America

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March 2!
The National Education Association is building a nation of readers through its signature program, NEA’s Read Across America. Now in its 18th year, this year-round program focuses on motivating children and teens to read through events, partnerships, and reading resources.

You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read with a child.”

Read Across America Day honours Dr Suess, the popular children’s book author (Theodor Geisel, 1904). Seuss’s first book was And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937) followed by a series of popular books for teens. Then an educational specialist asked him if he would write a book to help children learn how to read. From a list of 300 words that most first-graders know, Seuss had to write the book using only those words. As he looked over the list, two words jumped out at him: “cat” and “hat.” The rest is history! It took nine months to write The Cat in the Hat (1957); 1,702 words, but it has only 220 different words. Parents and teachers immediately used it to teach children to read. A classic, it remains a popular best seller. A few years later, Seuss’s publisher bet him $50 that he could not write a book using only 50 different words. Seuss produced Green Eggs and Ham (1960), using 49 one syllable words plus “anywhere.”

It is the 25th anniversary of the publication of Oh The Places You’ll Go! And that is the theme this year. It’s fun to remember the places he took me.
Go to the NEA.org website for updates and stories from the road of today’s events

Our Eccentric Brain

Title: How We Learn, by Benedict Carey
(The Surprising Truth about When, Where, and Why it Happens)
Publisher: Random House (Sept 2014)
272 pp
Genre: Nonfiction, psychology, education, self test, memory, learning
4 Stars ****
Author: Benedict Carey is a NYTimes award winning science and medical reporter. Previously he worked for the LA Times. Carey has written numerous fascinating and wide ranging articles. Strangely I love his obituaries, of scientific people. He is also the author of two science adventures for teens: Island of the Unknowns and Poison Most Vial.
Story line:
This is a relatively short book for an extensive subject of the cognitive science of learning. Carey has made it an interesting, engaging read, easy to follow. There is practical advice on how to apply learning and memory to our own lives. An appendix neatly summarizes Essential Questions in 6 pages.
I was intrigued by Mary Roach’s statement “I feel as if I’ve owned a brain for 54 years and only now discovered the operating manual.” And had to read his book. While I enjoyed this, it is written (and very well) for a general audience, with much feeling like common sense and perhaps even old fashioned (therefore not surprising). Repetition is essential to learning. Although it is only part of it. Good habits and sleep are essential. Problem solving and concentration are also important. Life doesn’t have multiple choice questions.
Learning is different for everyone, and learning how the brain retrieves information will be useful to most people. I was interested in people learning by creating scenes, while I always listened to music. Mendelsohn’s Hebridian overture with Leonard Bernstein was essential study tool. I still have several recordings in multiple formats!
This deserves a wide reading, especially for an aging population. Let’s not forget to learn. Having said that, teenagers could greatly benefit too.
Read on:
Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit
Daniel Kahneman Thinking Fast and Slow
Greg Frost Maximizing Brain Control
Peter C. Brown Make it Stick
Barbara Oakley A Mind for Numbers
Gabriel Wyner Fluent Forever – my next read!
Quotes:
If the brain is a learning machine, then it’s an eccentric one, and it performs best when its quirks are exploited.
Any memory has …a storage strength and a retrieval strength…the old dog quickly relearns old tricks.
Don’t forget your brain vitamins
Normally, when I am visited by the Ghost of Physics Past, I was not entirely patient.
Testing is studying, of a different and powerful kind.
Using our memory changes our memory in ways we don’t anticipate.
Testing has brought fear and self-loathing into so many hearts….
I’ll leave it to others to explain Mozart.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Ebook Sale!

Feeling a little chilly in Northern climes? Preparing for the weekend storm or frigid temps? Consider a warming romance book! I am reposting a message from an author which we have recommended, to help boost sales, but also as sales today will support a worthy charity “Dress for Success”. Consider purchasing a book today. Stay warm!!
(10 of my friends have received a copy today as I wanted to support both the author and the charity!)

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From the author!
Question: WHAT CAN YOU GET FOR .99 Cents?
A A cup of coffee
B A bottle of nail polish
C A cupcake
D None of the above
And the Answer is: D None of the above.
HOWEVER, starting today through March 6th you can get 359 pages of sizzling romance for just .99 cents and support a great charity all in one fell swoop!
So, if you have the hard copy please consider buying the e-book for your e-reader.
OR you can gift it to a friend or family member. It’s easy. On Amazon, you just click on the bubble on the right hand side that says “Give as a Gift”. That will take you to a screen where you write in the email of the recipient. You can even add a note.
And this is the best part. If you buy the book(s) today I will donate 100% of my profit (up to $200.00) to the charity Dress for Success! I would love to get a boost on Amazon, B&N and iTunes today. A big sales number really make these Etail sites sit up and take notice.
Thank you so much for your support! Let’s spread some LOVE!
xo,
Jess

Dreaming Spires

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Oxford and Japan
Russell complements Sherlock-
The game is a foot!

Title: Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
Publisher: Bantam Press, Random House
352 pp
Genre: mystery, Sherlock Holmes, adventure, series, crime, historical thriller
4.5 Stars ****
Author:
Laurie R King is a best selling author of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, SanFran Homicide Inspector Kate Martinelli series, as well as stand alone suspense novels. She has been nominated for and won many awards for her writing, (including a Nero for A Monstrous Regiment of Women, (Russell/Sherlock) and a MacCavity for Touchstone, one of my favourite mysteries). The first Russell/Sherlock is The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994). But don’t miss Beekeeping for Beginners (2011), a novella written from Sherlock’s perspective. King has also written a number of short stories, which are all worth collecting. She is co-editor with Leslie Klinger (master authority on Sherlock!) of A Study in Sherlock and In the Company of Sherlock Holmes.
Visit her website at http://laurierking.com: enjoy her blog posts and facebook!
Story line:
This is the 14th Mary Russell (aka Mrs Sherlock Holmes) mystery, narrated again by Mary as an older woman recalling her adventures with Sherlock. As such they are very much historical novels, period pieces with intriguing mysteries. This book takes place after The Game and before Locked Rooms, in 1924 and 1925 (although 4 other novels are also before the ending). Mary is a strong female protagonist, intellectually formidable, equal with Holmes but with a subtle personal relationship that I find perceptive. She is one of my favourite bluestockings. This story also introduces Haruki Sato, a deceptive, memorable character, a respected shinobi. I would love to meet her again.
Part of this story is a flashback to their voyage to Japan aboard the Thomas Carlyle where Holmes spies a blackmailer /English clubman, whom he would like nothing more than to apprehend. There are memorable descriptions of this voyage and their exposure to the customs and traditions of Japan. A variety of mysteries and tests complete that adventure, but then Ms Sato appears in Oxford nearly a year later. We are back in The Bodleian to recover and replace forgeries of an ancient Japanese haiku poet Matsuo Basho.
It is an interesting puzzle, a fascinating travelogue, with intriguing layered characters, and detailed backgrounds, all making for a very satisfying read. I will no doubt buy a hard copy, and continue to recommend her earlier novels. You can read this independent of the others but why? Start with the first: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and enjoy the character development and progression (and adventures!) They often follow directly on from the previous book.
Read on:
If you like Sherlock Holmes you will enjoy this series. Make note of the authors with membership in The Irregulars, or books sanctioned by the Conan Doyle Estate. Read the short stories by various authors in A Study in Sherlock and In the Company of Sherlock Holmes.
Caleb Carr The Italian Secretary
Alan Bradley Flavia DeLuce novels
Leslie Klinger The Annotated Sherlock Holmes
Larry Millett Sherlock Holmes and the Red demon, the ice palace, the rune stones, the secret alliance (for Sherlock in Minnesota)
Anthony Horowitz The House of Silk, Moriarity, and short story The Three Monarchs
Quotes:
That sweet city with her dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty’s heightening. Mathew Arnold

What is it about Oxford that puts one in a poetical state of mind?
The house was silent, weighty with the comfort of a thousand books.
This was far from the first time I had stood on the terrace with a cup of tea, appreciating not being elsewhere.
(It was just a pub) Heaven lay within, an ancient gathering space that could only be in England, every breath testifying to its centuries of smoke and beer, damp dogs and the sweat of working men.
We watched Bombay recede, then went below to arrange our possessions, and our bribes.
Twenty four and a half days Bombay to Yokohama. Five hundred eighty six hours pressed about by humanity, one hundred eighty hours spent sweating amongst the bedsheets; eighty-four hours in the dining room; nineteen and a half hours of language tutorials with Miss Sato; ten hours reading Shakespeare aloud with an extremely mixed group of amateurs; and seventeen hour- long afternoon salons on topics from tea to theatre; … Some forty hours spent pacing the decks to keep from leaping off them, twenty or so hours on the cycling and rowing machines…
The face he lifted to me held that bright optimism I have learned to dread.
Allowing the world to think I am a character in some stories is the only way to obtain a degree of freedom.
We slept in hard cotton mattresses laid on the floors, our heads perched on pillows stuffed, apparently, with gravel.

Read as an ARC from NetGalley